West Sayville, NY – Natasha Alexenko, a sexual assault survivor and spokesperson for Natasha’s Justice Project is hopeful the event of sexual abuse that have come to light at Penn State University and Syracuse University will encourage more survivors to come forward and report their crimes. Ms. Alexenko reported her 1993 rape and testified in court, her perpetrator is currently imprisoned and will not be eligible for parole until 2057.
“Sexual assault is an underreported crime, often it is because of the survivor’s shame, guilt, or fear. The hope is that tragedies like those at Penn State and Syracuse will encourage others to come forward and seek justice,” said Alexenko.
Natasha Alexenko travels to colleges and universities across the United States to talk about her rape, which occurred in 1993 when she was a college student. She says she has been “seeing an increase in the dialogue surrounding this sensitive topic” on college campuses particularly after the Penn State University sexual assault scandal became public.
The rape kit backlog goes beyond the United States. This story from Australia details how DNA caught 24 people being charged with 33 historical sex attacks dating back as far as 1987.
It’s so important to realize the consequences of having a backlog on any level in that the issue goes far beyond your locality. Natasha’s perpetrator was apprehending in Las Vegas, Nevada but her attack occurred in New York City. Criminals can and do cross state, county, and international lines. If your municipality does not have a backlog that’s commendable but do you know about your adjacent counties or cities?
“Two weeks after a deadline for local police departments to count their untested rape kits and report back to the state, fewer than five percent of the agencies in the state delivered their totals to the Texas Department of Public Safety, as required by a new state law.”
The Natasha’s Justice Project team has been told from our inception that the backlog numbers would be difficult to obtain. We’re often met with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that can make the process of getting information on rape kits in a particular municipality very time-consuming but we’re persevering.
What’s interesting about this article is that of the agencies that reported in Texas, which was fewer than five percent, there was a backlog of nearly 5,500 rape kits. This tragedy is very real and we’re not stopping until each kit has been tested and policy and procedures are in place to see that this problem doesn’t happen again.
See article: http://www.americanindependent.com/204455/despite-deadline-in-new-law-few-texas-police-agencies-reported-count-of-untested-rape-kits
In this case from Connecticut, where there is a known backlog of approximately 4,000 rape kits, the assailant would never have been linked to a previous rape had they not done something to eliminate their backlog.
So often rapists are repeat offenders, DNA is a powerful tool to link their crimes and get them behind bars.
In another display of how important it is to test all rape kits, a corrections officer in Illinois was just charged with sexually assaulting a 10-year-old in 1997 … after a rape kit that was part of a local backlog was finally tested.
The 2010 Illinois Sexual Assault Evidence Submission Act required the state to collect data on all untested rape kits in the state. In March, the state announced it has 4,126 sexual assault cases connected to untested rape kits.
NJP is in the news today! The Wall St. Journal, the Washington Post, Forbes, and the Huffington Post are all covering our work to determine the precise extent of the rape kit backlog.
Here’s an excerpt from the Washington Post story (and you can read all the articles at the links above):
A recently formed organization that contends there is a nationwide backlog of untested rape kits announced Monday it was teaming with a New York university to try to figure out how many are sitting on police department shelves as a first step in clearing the logjam.
Natasha’s Justice Project, based on New York’s Long Island, believes there could be as many as 180,000 untested rape kits in the U.S., said founder Natasha Alexenko. Her group, Stony Brook University researchers and a consulting firm named Strategic Planning will try to determine what the number really is, Alexenko said.
A May report by the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the U.S. Justice Department, said the exact number of unanalyzed sex assault kits nationally is not known, in part because of an “antiquated process” of reporting in many jurisdictions.
The institute’s survey found that 43 percent of law enforcement agencies lack a computerized system for tracking forensic evidence. It also found that in 18 percent of unsolved sexual assault cases between 2002 and 2007, forensic evidence was collected but never submitted for analysis.
On Tuesday night, the California State Senate passed a bill that will require the testing of all rape kits in counties where fewer than 12% of forcible rape cases result in arrests.
If the bill becomes law, it will also require that police report back to the Department of Justice about how many rape kits they collect and how many are tested.
The bill’s author, state Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, told the Pasadena Star News: “It’s unconscionable that thousands of rape kits remain unopened and untested across California. Rape kits hold vital evidence that is crucial to a criminal conviction.”
Here’s a photo of NJP’s Natasha Alexenko with our research assistants, Tia Palermo of Stony Brook University and statistician Michael Dawidziak. We’re working together on a comprehensive study to determine the number of untested rape kits in the U.S. — and strategic plans to get them tested and end the backlog.
A new anti-rape campaign being launched in Ottawa, Canada is built around a message to men: “Don’t be that guy.”
The ads, which speak specifically to the role that alcohol sometimes plays in sexual assault and are being placed in men’s bathrooms in bars and other locations where young people gather, feature messages like:
“Just because she isn’t saying no … doesn’t mean she’s saying yes.”
“Just because you help her home … doesn’t mean you get to help yourself.”
Crime Prevention Ottawa, which is running the campaign, says: “For years we’ve been telling young women that it’s up to them to avoid sexual assault. This campaign breaks the mold by speaking directly to young men. The images are intentionally graphic to emphasize the bottom line, which is that sex without consent is sexual assault. And being drunk is no excuse for committing a violent crime.”
You can download the posters here.
PR Newswire featured NJP founder Natasha Alexenko as their “expert of the week” this week! You can read their interview with Natasha here.